London looks and feels increasingly like the super prime, super bland landscape of a departure lounge.
There are the ‘Sheikh-chic’ skyscrapers. Public places with minimalist design that await the Instagram-mable diversions of passers-by. Shops which operate as showrooms for goods and services bought elsewhere. ‘In-between’ spaces ‘curated’ by marketing managers. And ‘ghost mansions’ owned by ‘buy to leave’ investors.
As goods and services are delivered increasingly to consumers via the ‘cloud’, the ultimate “placeless” place is starting to emerge.
This is a gorgeous wilderness of boutiques, upper class goddesses, quilted handbags and TV crews shooting yet another series on ‘Londongrad’.
This is a Tumblr City of lifestyle not politics, entertainment not rights, and brand strategies that masquerade as impromptu ‘pop up’.
Does this matter? Yes, if empty exclusivity is the sole condition of the post-gentrified city. Yes, if you value neighborhood and think it corroded by vacant apartments. And yes, if you identify with the centre of the city in which you live and prefer it to be something beyond a financial safe haven.
How to break the increasing monopoly of this Moncler Madness both in London and other cities around the world?
Some say build fewer luxury flats. Others: look for economic growth beyond mega-projects. I say: become more intelligently local.
Attachment to place continues to be a profound and meaningful part of human experience; and localisation has long been a healthy retreat from a world that has tilted too far from standardisation and centralisation.
In peri- and post-gentrifying neighborhoods, we should be engendering new meaning through a multiplex of new, different forms of local social media.
And we should be making collectivisation and social inclusion at the most local level intrinsic to the business model.
Who are the key participants in this project? I think that they’re the people who are an essential energy of our cities and the lifeblood of its commerce: the entrepreneurs.
Entrepreneurship oxygenates life. The bulk of the economy remains local. And as anthropologist Edmund Ladd once put it: “All our prayers in the morning, in the evening, start with the word “Here.””
Real estate, architecture and local institutions have been central to the making of distinctive physical place. Yet several things appear to now constrain their powers: globalism, short-selling to super-prime investors, marketers’ obsession with ‘the curated life’ and an insufficiently fast, fickle or mobile way of doing business that’s fit for ‘multichannel’ citizens.
In their place, I believe that entrepreneurship is both seedbed and greenhouse for a new urban distinction.
And if you’re skeptical about the ‘lure of the local’ in the age of the net, think of the success and appeal of Airbnb — a service that allows people to live as the host lives and do things like shop at the local grocery store.
In an interview with Fortune magazine, Jack Dorsey, the co-founder of Twitter, captured some of the value of local business to the ‘livability’ of cities, after the rain of post-gentrification. “If we have strong networks of people working together to build local commerce,” Dorsey said, “it can drive people to want to stay and live in these neighborhoods, and it builds a strong underpinning for the whole nation.”
However, just as visual artists need agents, entrepreneurs need devoted dealers. They need private risk capital. The challenge: how to source that risk finance, deploy it smartly and exploit the dynamism and beneficial return on that investment at the most local level.